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Emerging Architecture finalists on globalisation, proactiveness and creativity

Emerging architecture awards finalists

Following their presentations to the judging panel, the 18 architects shortlisted for this year’s AR Emerging Architecture awards gathered around a table to exchange views and experiences

From everyday struggles to shared aspirations, a feeling of genuine enthusiasm emanates from the discussion. The distances that separate these architects, scattered all around the world, seem to evaporate as they easily identify with one another and naturally relate to each other’s stories. Their practices’ work is starting to be recognised in their home countries and they find themselves at an important point in their careers, on the brink of something potentially very big. A bit of a jump into the unknown. Their practices are beginning to grow, decisions need to be made and the questions start flowing: how do we become bigger offices? How do we go about building in a context we don’t know? Is it even the right thing to be doing projects all around the world? Or should we be working in our own backyard?

Globalisation versus localism is identified as a key challenge. Saunders Architecture founder Todd Saunders explains how his practice has decided to focus primarily on Fogo Island as a site. ‘We have designed and completed nine projects and feel that we understand the specificities of that context,’ he says. In his case, being able to discuss intentions with the community is an important step to be able to instigate change in a place. In response, Frida Escobedo feels that similar populations might face the same kind of issues, so working close to home or elsewhere could prove to be not all that different. ‘What does it really mean to think globally, to be global?’

‘What does it really mean to think globally, to be global?’

Cultural identity is seen by NOA* partner Christian Rottensteiner as the hardest element to get right – at home or elsewhere. ‘Combining the more technical requirements with these more intangible aspects of a project is the real challenge of the profession.’ For him, it is important for architects to have a clear concept from the beginning and to follow it through. And the complexity that comes along the way is part of the fun of being an architect. Heide & von Beckerath architect Jack Wilson agrees with this view, insisting on the profession’s ability to bend the rules as much as possible, particularly in times of ever-rising environmental considerations. ‘We need to comply with the law, but we can’t let policy and sustainability tick-boxes limit our creativity.’

As different locations entail different urgencies, Atelier Groundwork’s founder Zhang Bing worries about Nanjing’s loss of authenticity. Working on several building renovations, he tries hard to protect the historical urban fabric and maintain a sense of place. ‘Rather than knocking buildings down and starting from scratch, we have to preserve our uniqueness – otherwise, at this speed, we are at risk of losing too much for the next generation.’ Often working in cities at crucial moments of their evolution, our roundtable of emerging architects feels it is important they bring their skills and knowledge to bear and help to shape that next step.

‘We can’t let policy and sustainability tick-boxes limit our creativity’ 

In Bandung, a creative young city just east of Jakarta, the current mayor is himself an architect and he is keen to expand the provision of public space. After turbulent years of dictatorship, the very notion of public space is relatively new in Indonesia, making Rotterdam-based SHAU’s first microlibrary pilot project all the more pertinent. Similarly, Chilean duo Beals Lyon feel that many new opportunities are opening up in Santiago. ‘The basic needs are mostly covered so we can start to think of the “extras” – public spaces for citizens, better housing schemes.’ Megacities often lack some of the essential elements that would make them true cities – places for people to gather and exchange – and our shortlist of practitioners is keen to build on and improve this process of place-making.

When Tariq Shuaib, Design Principal at PACE, proud supporter of AR Emerging Architecture, comments on the fact that many small projects are recognised in the awards, the consensus is that the scale of intervention seems to be of negligible importance. Yes, sometimes scale is not out of choice – Kubo Tsushima admits it is very difficult for young practices to get hold of large commissions in the centre of Tokyo – but often small projects, whether temporary or permanent, prove they can be just as significant as larger ones, both in practices’ portfolios and in the evolution of the built environment. The microlibrary and Beals Lyon’s Garden of Forking Paths are good examples.

‘The context is forcing us to be more proactive’

Just as scale does not seem to limit scope, this year’s shortlist agrees on how important it is for young practitioners to create opportunities for themselves. While the architecture and construction sectors were at first seen as partly responsible for the financial crisis in Spain, architects are now appearing to be able to ‘mobilise society and provide new kinds of solution’, explains unparelld’arquitectes founder Eduard Callis. ‘The context is forcing us to be more proactive.’ Rethinking the way architects’ creative skillsets can enable them to contribute to larger societal projects and needs is healthy, and crucial to remain relevant. ‘The good thing is that when facing a crisis, you have more time on your hands, so you can actually think,’ he adds with a smile.

R ZERO founder Edgar Velasco Casillas, who is currently collaborating with urban designers on renovation strategies for Paseo de la Reforma, explains this project came out of self-motivated research on forgotten areas of Mexico City. This initiative doesn’t only help the practice generate work for itself, it is also their way of contributing to bigger urban decisions, whereby they hope to help point the way ahead. Optimism is important, always, but this year’s shortlist demonstrates that it is their deep convictions and restless work that got them to where they are today. And it’s only the beginning of the journey.